published Friday, December 30th, 2011

Chattanooga locals who kept their New Year's resolutions all year long


by Naomi Jagoda
Christian Rushing stands outside of his Madison Street home. Rushing achieved his New Year's resolution by blogging about urban planning.
Christian Rushing stands outside of his Madison Street home. Rushing achieved his New Year's resolution by blogging about urban planning.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

Resolutions are easy to make, but hard to keep.

According to a 2010 Psychology Today article, fewer than 10 percent of people keep their resolutions for a full year.

“Change is difficult, despite the ‘quick and without any effort’ claims of motivational speakers and self-help books,” wrote Jim Taylor, Ph.D. “In attempting to change, we are swimming against the tide of obstacles that may have been in our way for many years.”

Some popular New Year’s resolutions include drinking less alcohol, quitting smoking, losing weight, managing debt, improving job or education and volunteering, according to USA.gov.

Despite the challenges of keeping resolutions and the statistical improbability of doing so, however, some people in the Chattanooga area have actually managed to achieve the longtime goals they resolved to do every year.

Christian Rushing, 39

Resolution: Start a blog.

What he did: As an urban planner and design consultant, Christian Rushing is accustomed to expressing himself visually. Last January, however, he decided he wanted to try writing. Rushing started a blog on urban design and vowed to write at least 1,000 words a week.

“It’s absolutely a new venture for me,” he said. “Urban designers and architects, we typically communicate in drawings and diagrams, in things that get built. Writing about it is something that was foreign to me.”

A founding partner at Kennedy, Coulter, Rushing and Watson, a Chattanooga-based planning and design firm, Rushing has a background in architecture and planning. Starting a blog, he said, was his way of contributing to an ongoing conversation about urban design in downtown Chattanooga.

Taking on this task has been a “fantastic learning experience,” Rushing said, though coming up with a different topic each week has not been easy.

“It has been incredibly rewarding,” he said. “The process of stepping outside the normal way of expressing myself and finding a new way to give voice to something I care about has been incredibly enriching, regardless of whether anyone else has read a single word of it.”

Tammie Clark, 48, and Sara Davis, 29

Resolution: Lose weight.

What they did: Tammie Clark said she had struggled with her weight for at least 20 years. She had long made weight loss a goal.

“Every year, you say, ‘I’m going to lose a few,’ ” she said.

Clark lost more than 100 pounds since December 2010, when she had an irreversible procedure called a vertical sleeve gastrectomy that left her with a 4-ounce stomach. After the surgery, she went on a special protein-heavy diet and exercised.

Clark’s goal of fitting into single-digit jeans was mission accomplished. Before the surgery she wore a size 18 or 20, but now, she wears a size 0 or 2, she said.

“[I feel] 1,000 times healthier,” said Clark, an X-ray technician who lives in Ringgold, Ga. “I can walk and talk at the same time.”

When she and her family used to go to Disney World, Clark would make every excuse to slow down. Now, she said, she can walk to rides more quickly and doesn’t have to worry about fitting in seats.

For people who want to lose weight, “there are answers,” she said, though she added that surgery is not always the right one.

“[Surgery] is not easy,” she said. “It’s not a cop-out.”

Another weight-loss achiever, Sara Davis has lost about 25 pounds since June through diet and exercise.

A teacher who lives in Dalton, Ga., Davis went to a nutritionist, who put her on a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet from June to October. She also hired a personal trainer.

Davis said weight loss had been a resolution of hers since she graduated from college. While she would still like to lose 65 more pounds, she appreciates how the nutritionist’s advice got in her head.

“I was completely addicted to food,” she said.

Loretta Leda, 40-something

Resolution: Reclaim independence.

What she did: After feeling “constrained” by her life circumstances and with her daughter off to college, Loretta Leda decided 2011 would be the year she started over.

She found a job as the marketing director for a doctor’s office and moved from Florida to Chattanooga.

“I've discovered that life is too short to be unhappy,” Leda wrote in an email. “Do what you love, be around people who share the same passion and discover the real you and what life can be like.”

She set out to reclaim her independence, to find work that she loved and to shake off that constrained feeling.

“I’m a creative person,” she said in a phone interview. “I enjoy having flexibility and freedom and being able to make my own choices.”

Leda also has a passion for helping others. She has been active in charity work and is in the early stages of planning an event to benefit a yet-to-be-determined female focused cause.

Besides giving her a fresh start, the move to Chattanooga also allows Leda to pursue outdoor adventures.

“I love hiking, biking, zip-lining and adventure,” she wrote, “so I’ve been blessed to be able to relocate to an area for a great job as well as a cultural city with a plethora of events and opportunities.”

Matt Smith, 20

Resolution: Advance his studies.

What he did: Matt Smith has always moved a little faster than most.

After graduating Cleveland Christian School at age 16 (he skipped three grades), Smith entered a telecommunications program at Lee University. Ultimately, he decided it was not a field in which he wanted to pursue a career.

“I had been uncertain about what I wanted to do,” he said. “My future, post-graduation, was uncertain.”

He had excelled in some theology electives and developed a rapport with the department head. In the fall of 2010, Smith had the opportunity to assist a professor and even teach some classes, which led to him being invited to enter the theology master’s program at Lee. The decision took some time.

“First of all, grad school was work, lots of work,” he said. “Last week was two all-nighters two nights in a row.

“But the other reason was that I was kind of uncertain. Did I really want to do this? Over time, I discovered I really want to do this.”

After carefully considering his options, Smith resolved in January 2011 to enter the theology master’s program later in the year.

“I’m young, and I wanted to finish while I’m young,” said Smith, who completed his bachelor’s degree in May 2011 at age 19. “I [thought] if I’m going to do this, I need to do it.”

His long-term goal, he said, is to teach the subject at the college level. Currently, Smith works as a graduate assistant and tutor at Lee while he completes his studies and also teaches tae kwon do.

Tom Sheets, 46

Resolution: Quit tobacco.

What he did: Sheets quit smoking in 1989 but moved on to smokeless tobacco. Each January, he said, he made a resolution to stop dipping. Each year, he failed. This past year, however, was different.

“I finally, finally conquered smokeless tobacco this year,” Sheets said proudly.

He recalled seeing an older gentleman and the man’s older son in church and had something of an epiphany, knowing that he wanted to be a presence for his children, now 6 and 9, when they are grown.

“I’d always beaten myself up,” Sheets said, “thinking ‘I’ve got to quit this, but I’m not going to see my kids (as adults) because I’ll have already killed myself doing this stupid thing,’ and I finally did it. Meaning, barring getting hit by a truck, I will be the old. white-haired fellow and see his son in his mid-20s, walk his daughter down the aisle, whatever.”

While his wife took their children on vacation, Sheets spent a “difficult” two weeks detoxing.

“I would say it was better than a rusty fork in the eye, but I might rather have had a rusty fork in the eye,” he said. “It was hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Sheets and his family are all “ecstatic” about his achievement. The only drawback, he said, is the resulting 16 pound weight gain.

“The fat man has caught me and has put me in a headlock,” he said.

Therefore, his 2012 resolution is to exercise more and lose weight.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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